Friday, November 8, 2013

Notes on War Experiences

Eddie Rickenbacker (1890–1973)
From Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight

First Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in his Spad plane near Rembercourt, France (October 18, 1918). Courtesy of the National Archives.
When Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died in 1973, a laudatory obituary in The New York Times covered at length his extraordinary achievement as the president of Eastern Air Lines. In 1934 General Motors had assigned him the task of turning its troubled air transport division around.
In its first year under his management, Eastern turned in a net gain of $350,000—the first profit in the history of the airline industry. The second year he doubled the profits. By the third year, when the Government ordered G. M. to sell its airlines or get out of aircraft manufacturing, a banking syndicate offered more than $3 million for Eastern.

Mr. Rickenbacker pleaded with his employers for an equal chance to “save the airline for the boys and girls who helped build it.” He received 60 days to raise the money and was told the company would be his for $3.5 million. The night before the option expired he got his final commitment, and the next day, March 2, 1938, he owned Eastern Air Lines. . . .

For 25 years under Mr. Rickenbacker’s guidance—from 1935 to 1960—it earned a profit every year.
In spite of this impressive business triumph, the Times admits that “in the long run it will not be his material successes that will be remembered. Rather, he will be recalled as a larger-than-life figure cast in the same mold as legendary folk heroes of the past.” Rickenbacker’s name will forever evoke both his early fame as a record-shattering World War I ace pilot and his survival for twenty-four days adrift at sea on a life raft in 1942, after the plane carrying him and seven others crashed into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Rickenbacker’s personal papers are held at the Library of Congress and include his typed notes from late 1918, describing his very first flight as a World War I pilot. Published for the first time in the Library of America collection Into the Blue, this straightforward yet riveting rough draft was rather freely transformed by the ghostwriter of Rickenbacker’s 1919 memoir Fighting the Flying Circus into a folksy, melodramatic first chapter, with a opening sentence that reads “After days of schooling and nights of anticipation, I woke up one morning to find my dreams come true.”

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It was on March 6th, 1918, after several days awaiting the weather to permit several of the boys, who were at Paris, awaiting to take back planes which would be used in our long expected and anticipated flight over the front.. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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